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Mental health: The Schizophrenia puzzle

Diane Xavier | 6/3/2013, 9:17 a.m.

The Dallas Examiner

When it comes to health, people usually think about taking care of the physical, emotional and spiritual. However, taking care of one’s mental health is just as important, especially for those people suffering from mental health issues such as schizophrenia.

Dr. Ana Stan, a psychiatrist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, works with schizophrenic patients.

“Schizophrenia is a brain disease that affects 1 percent of the population. The causes of the disease are not totally understood,” she said, though they do know it doesn’t affect African Americans any differently than other populations. “It can affect anybody no matter what ethnicity they are.”

The disorder may result in some combination of hallucinations, delusions, and disordered thinking and behavior.

Some of the symptoms people experience include hearing voices that other people don’t hear, thinking that other people can read their minds, and that their thoughts are being broadcast on television or on the radio. People with schizophrenia also believe that others can control their minds and have thoughts that people are out to get them or harm them.

Symptoms are usually categorized into three domains: positive, negative and cognitive symptoms.

“With positive symptoms, patients tend to experience delusions, which are false beliefs and not part of their reality,” Stan said. “They can also experience hallucinations, where they experience perceptions that shouldn’t be there. They see things that normal people don’t see and they see things that normal people don’t hear.”

Stan said another positive symptom patients experience is what is known as a thought disorder.

“They may have difficulty speaking or putting words together,” she said.

Another domain is the negative symptoms. Negative symptoms are associated with disruptions to normal emotions and behaviors.

“People who experience negative symptoms tend to have a loss of interest in everyday activities, appear to lack emotion, and have reduced ability to plan or carry out activities,” she said. “They may also experience social withdrawal.”

The cognitive symptoms include having difficulty in being able to understand information and use it to make decisions, having trouble focusing or paying attention, and include having memory problems.

Stan noted that the causes of schizophrenia are not fully understood.

“What we know is that the genetic component pays a huge role in who gets the disease,” Stan said. “People who have relatives with schizophrenia tend to have a higher risk of getting and developing the disease. Also, certain factors in the environment affect who gets the disease. But we still haven’t fully understood the ultimate causes of schizophrenia.”

Stan explained that schizophrenia affects men and women equally and occurs at similar rates in all ethnic groups around the world.

“It happens to 1 percent of people from all over the world,” she said. “Men tend to develop schizophrenia earlier than females and men have a more severe course. Schizophrenia doesn’t have a presence for a certain type of population.”

Stan says men tend to develop the disease from their late teens to their 20’s, while females usually